Innovative Tripods With Cool New Features: When modern ingenuity meets the greatest photographic accessory of all time
posted Monday, December 16, 2013 at 4:49 PM EST
The origins of the tripod are lost in the mists of time, but according to Homer, the Ancient Greeks gave them as gifts. Of course, photography wasn’t all that popular back in 450 B.C.E. and the tripods he was referring to supported ceremonial cauldrons, not cameras. And here’s a fascinating factoid: The oldest photographic standard fitting currently in use is the ¼ x 20 tripod screw and socket. It dates to about 1880 and is still the most common way of affixing a camera to a tripod. Until the 1860s photography without a tripod or studio stand was virtually impossible due to the excruciatingly low sensitivity of Daguerreotypes and wet plates, and only when manufactured dry plates (that would be rated at around IS0 3!) came on the market did it become possible to take handheld pictures in bright sunlight. In other words, we can thank the humble tripod for (ahem) helping to get photography on its feet.
In many ways the tripod is a simple device whose basic concept of stability through triangulation has stood the test of time. However, over the last 10 years or so the quality, finish, and general design of tripods has vastly improved, and the choice of materials has expanded to include various forms of hi-tech carbon fiber as well as hybrid construction. Today, serious enthusiasts have a staggering choice of well-designed, beautifully-made tripods, and often at very attractive prices. This boon for us has created fierce competition among tripod manufacturers, and a fascinating by-product of this golden age of tripod development is serious design innovation.
While many of the features we’ve focused on are indeed ingenious and useful, there are no levitating tripods on this list and none of them will brew your espresso. Still, it’s nice to see that there is still technological progress and innovation even in the most conservative and essential of photographic devices. The tripod is still the badge of the professional photographer, and using one is still the surest way to get shaper pictures. And remember, the best tripod is the one you take with you!
A Compendium of Innovative Tripods
Davis & Sanford Magnum XG13 Grounder: This robust medium-sized tripod has a 3-way fluid effect pan-tilt head that makes it an effective all-rounder for shooting stills or HD video. What sets it apart is the unique counter-balance feature on its FX13 head that can be turned on with a simple switch to provide extra damping and a self-leveling action on the tilt control that makes it much easier to handle heavy DSLR run-and-gun outfits with long lenses, and big camcorders without tipping over. It’s an economical choice for those getting into serious HD video. Maximum height, 6 feet; maximum load capacity with head, 8 pounds; folded length, 27 inches; weight, 6.7 pounds. Street price: $189.95.
Giottos Pro Series 8314 YTL: The exclusive Y-shaped center column on this 8-layer carbon fiber tripod help to make it about 30% more compact when folded because the legs are closer together, and its transverse center column can cantilever as well as raise and lower for greater angular adjustment. Other features: 4-section legs adjustable to 3 angles and calibrated on their lower sections for more precise setup. Maximum height: 75.6 inches; maximum load capacity, 22 pounds; folded length: 23.6 inches; weight 3.7 pounds. Street price: $459.99.
Induro DR Hi-Hat Tripod Set: You want load capacity you can stand on? This rugged low-height aluminum alloy tripod has a load capacity of 220 pounds, and each of its stubby legs has a 2-section extension and 3 variable angle adjustments. Reinforced ovoid feet provide a secure grip on almost any surface and can be spiked, screwed or otherwise secured. Other features: 100mm Bowl, 100mm Half Ball, adapter, 2 bubble levels no center post. Height is adjustable from 3.9-11.4 inches; weight 4.6 pounds. Street price: $279.00.
Davis & Sanford Traverse TR-553-228: This sturdy super-compact aluminum travel tripod has 5-section twist-lock legs that swivel 180 degrees to store over the ball head, providing a folded length of only 12 inches to fit in almost any camera bag. Other features: Easy Glide center post, 3-position independent leg-angle adjustments, robust P-228 ball head with calibrated base and Arca-Swiss-compatible quick-release. It extends to 53 inches, has a load capacity of 10 pounds, and weighs 2.6 pounds. Street price: $109.99.
Benro A1192TB0 Travel Flat II with Ball Head: This lightweight aluminum tripod has one 5-section leg that unscrews without tools to become a full-sized monopod, and its Arca-compatible B0 ball head has separate lock and drag adjustment knobs, a 360-degreee panning scale, and a bubble level making it more versatile than many ball-head tripods. Maximum height; 55.5 inches; maximum load capacity, 26.4 pounds; folded length, 20.7 inches; weight, 3.7 pounds. Street price: $249.00.
Vista Connex Lightweight 4-section Tripod: This ingenious ultra-portable, ultra-lightweight tripod has legs similar in design to modern tent poles — just release the two locking straps and the leg sections unfurl and quickly snap together, held in place by a flexible elastic cord running through them. This economical tripod isn’t designed for heavyweight cameras but will still accommodate cameras up to 3 pounds and comes with an adjustable camera phone adapter. It includes an aluminum ball head, extends to 44 inches, folds to 15 inches, and weighs a mere 8 ounces. Street price: $24.29.
Manfrotto Befree Compact Travel Tripod: This clever, nicely made lightweight aluminum compact tripod has 4-section legs that pivot around the ball head with quick-release plates to save stowage space, and its patented leg-angle selectors let you select between two inclinations. It has a maximum height of 56.7 inches, folds to 15.7 inches, has a load capacity of 8.8 pounds, and weighs in at 3.1 pounds. Street price: $199.99.
Davis & Sanford ProElite 75mm 2-in-1 Video Tripod: Aimed at the professional HD Video shooter who needs to create broadcast quality video, this super-sturdy aluminum unit features a D & S 5-15 Fluid Head with 4-position pan-and-tilt drag control, a selectable 5-step (plus zero) counterbalance control, a 75mm bowl, an adjustable ground spreader with snap-in center support brace for maximum stability and an 80mm slide camera plate with bubble level. Load capacity: Tripod 88 pounds; head, 15 pounds; maximum height, 64 inches; weight, 13 pounds. Street price: $539.95.
Sirui M-3204 4-Section Carbon Fiber Tripod: Here’s one medium-capacity tripod that incorporates the travel tripod trick of using 180-degree pivoting legs to provide extra compactness for stowage and transport. Also one of its legs unscrews to become a monopod. BTW, the name Surui is pronounced “Soo-Ray,” and this beauty features 8x Carbon Fiber construction with a forged aluminum yoke for added strength, 2-leg-angle settings, silicone twist locks, stainless steel spikes, a reversible ¼-20/3/8-16 screw and a corrosion resistant anodized finish. Load capacity is an impressive 39.6 pounds, maximum height, 69.7 inches; minimum folded length, 20.8 inches; weight, 3.7 pounds. Street price: $464.95 without head.